The opening session of the Jio MAMI Movie Mela with Star, 2019 began with an engaging conversation between actor Deepika Padukone, the newly appointed Chairperson of MAMI, film critic Rajeev Masand and Anupama Chopra, Festival Director, MAMI. The focus of the chat was five of Deepika’s standout roles.
Asked to count the number of films she has worked on, Deepika said, “I have never really worked towards keeping a count on the number of films I have done, but more about connecting with the work I have done. My acting process begins with the narration. While a great narration may not necessarily translate into a great movie, it helps me visualise the story and the character. It helps bring out the honesty of the script.”
The conversation then steered towards Deepika’s roles. The first character that was discussed was Veronica, from her breakthrough film Cocktail. This role was offered to Deepika at a time when she was going through a lean period personally. Speaking about why she chose to play the dynamic and complicated Veronica, Deepika explained, “I reread the script to understand why Imtiaz (Ali) thought that while I was drawn to Meera, I was actually ready for Veronica.” She further added that it was Homi Adajania’s sensibility toward this complex character that empowered her to play it. “After a point I was spontaneous in my takes; Homi had just stopped directing me. Veronica helped Deepika shed her inhibitions both as a woman and as an actor and explore a side of her that she did not know existed.
Next up for discussion was Meenakshi (Meenamma) from Chennai Express, a role in which Deepika channelled her comedic muscles. Speaking about playing the nightmare scene from the film, Deepika said, “My energy was completely off that day. I could see that Shah Rukh Khan and Rohit Shetty were not happy with me and they were wondering how to make it work.” According to Deepika, comedy roles are tricky, especially when there are many actors on different wavelengths. These scenes cannot be rehearsed. The entire crew has to be tuned in to the comic timing. “You can’t prepare for scenes like these. It just happens spontaneously. But at the end of the day whatever you do with conviction becomes honest,” she said.
In the same year, Deepika portrayed Leela in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela. The Panchayat meeting scene, which was Deepika’s first ever shot for Bhansali and also her first film with now husband, Ranveer Singh, was discussed. She spoke about how stressful and unnerving it can get working with Bhansali’s impromptu way of shooting a character and how she gave her best to keep up with him. Given his improvisational style, Bhansali rewrote the script of the panchayat meeting scene, just as Deepika was getting done with hair and makeup. “While the writers were cajoling me on how I could shoot it in parts, I almost broke down.” she reminisced. On working with her husband, Deepika said. “He likes to discuss work and take it home. But not me. I like to be in a different head space on the set and at home.”
Speaking about her experience of working on the runaway hit, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, Deepika commented on director Ayan Mukerji’s working methods. “Ayan likes to have discipline on the sets,” she said. “The scene should be fun on screen but the actors off screen shouldn’t be fooling around.” Playing the on-screen journey of Naina, who goes from being a reserved to fun-loving, was something that Deepika enjoyed. “I had a lot of fun playing Naina. I saw a lot of her in me, and lot of me in her. Naina’s evolution is, in some ways, like my own; so, portraying her transformation wasn’t all that hard.”
When asked about the how two of her co-stars – Ranbir Kapoor and Ranveer Singh – differ in their methods of working, Deepika was quick to respond. “Ranbir doesn’t really have a process; he is very spontaneous. I have never really seen him ‘prepare’ for his role as such. He’s like me in that respect. Our approach is 50% rehearsed and 50% spontaneous. Ranveer, on the other hand, really gets into the process. He changes everything for the role – right from the car he drives, to the clothes and the perfume he wears. He’s a different person every six months, which is probably one of the reasons why our relationship has lasted so long; I never get bored.” she joked, leaving the audience in splits.
The conversation then moved to one of her most loved and acclaimed roles in Piku – a movie that holds a special place in Deepika’s heart. “Given the chance, I would do the movie all over again,” she said fondly. “I miss Piku, I miss the experience of making the movie. We were all in a really good place when we were making the movie. I had gotten out of depression and things were looking up. We had sets that were fully functional – the house, for instance. Shoojit (the director) told us to go about our parts as if we were really living in the house, and the camera would follow us. In that sense, we really ‘lived’ the film, and those moments were beautifully put together and presented to the audience.”
Speaking about her upcoming movie Chhapaak, in which she plays an acid attack survivor, Deepika said that the character stayed with her for quite a while even after the film was completed. It’s something, she said, that all actors experience. “The characters you play don’t just go away at the snap of the finger. They linger in your mind; they get pushed to the back as you start playing a new character; but they never entirely go away. Chhapaak was also a very physically draining movie; it would take at least three hours to put on the make-up every day and an hour to take it off. Even emotionally, it’s one of my most challenging roles yet and I’m looking forward to bringing it to audiences,” she signed off.